Ypsilanti reduces proposed cost and duration of street lighting fee
The Ypsilanti City Council has significantly reduced the cost and duration of a special assessment district it is proposing to establish that would have residents pay for street lighting.
Instead of 18 years of annual fees that start near $100 and decrease over time to $67 annually, residents would only pay approximately $58 each of the next two years.
The two-year fee would pay for the cost to convert mercury vapor lights to LED lights, but residents are no longer being asked to pay the DTE Energy bills for powering the lights through 2031.
The amendment to the proposal was approved 5-0. Mayor Paul Schreiber and Council Member Susan Moeller were absent.
Under the previous proposal, a parcel owner would have paid an estimated $98 in fiscal year 2014 and $92 in fiscal year 2015. That figure will drop to $84 through fiscal year 2020 and $67.51 through fiscal year 2031.
The switch to LED lighting is expected to reduce the city’s electric bill by approximately $115,00 annually, from $515,000 to $400,000. The original proposal called for the residents to pay that $400,000 through the special assessment district.
The city is working to find savings to eliminate projected deficits, and the $400,000 annually saved under the proposed plan would buy it another year of solvency.
But council members expressed hesitancy to impose the fee on residents.
“I’m leaning toward the (new plan) or not having a special assessment district and having the city pay for it,” Council Member Dan Vogt said, though he called the idea a gamble.
He told the audience of around 30 that had gathered in opposition to the proposal that the city needs to do something to save money and stressed its dire financial situation.
“We will run out of money," he said. "It would take a new legislature, governor and new economy to change that, and even then I don't know that it would help us. So if we don’t assess for things like this, we will run out of money sooner for everything - police, fire, street repairs, sewer, water, you name it. That’s the background and we have to make a choice as a group.”
Mayor Pro Tem Lois Richardson echoed those thoughts.
“The decisions may not be in agreement with what everyone wants us to do, but we have to look at the whole,” she said.
On Tuesday, those who showed up to offer their opinion on the proposal with city council were opposed to property owners paying for the conversion LED lights and to pay the electric bill.
City staff discussed a number of benefits such as improved lighting, increased safety and a significant reduction in energy and the city’s carbon footprint.
But many residents were skeptical of those benefits.
“I don’t find much benefit to the streetlight outside my window at all,” said Ypsilanti resident Linda Thompson. “If the city can no longer afford streetlights, then turn them off. It would do a lot for the carbon footprint.”
Several residents charged that the fee is actually a new tax because the savings will be found in the city’s general fund and the lighting bill passed on to residents.
“I’m having trouble discerning what the benefit is ... because it looks like we’re taking something from the general fund and shifting it to a fee for citizens - it’s a tax,” said Ypsilanti resident Scott Northway. “I don’t see the benefit to the people who are paying the tax.”
Prior to the meeting, Mayor Schreiber said he opposed the idea because it is a regressive tax. Any property owner, despite income, lot size or any other variable, would pay $100.
“That’s a big negative,” he said. “It does buy us another year of solvency if we do the plan as outlined, but the question is is that years of solvency worth the regressive nature of the levy?”
The proposal has costs for conversion to LED along with operation and maintenance divided equally and assessed among 4,812 of the city’s 4,951 parcels.
Ann Arbor resident Ken Schwartz told city council he owns nine properties in the city, though six are contiguous vacant lots. He said the six lots were once one lot, but he voluntarily divided them up at the city’s request.
He said it would be unfair for him to have to pay the fee six times over.
“I agree that the special assessment district benefits the citizens, but I think there are exceptions,” he said.
Eastern Michigan University and city-owned lots are exempt. Non-profits and churches would be a part of the assessment.
In looking at other cities that have special assessment districts for streetlights in Michigan, all but Romulus used a flat fee, though those flat fees were much lower than the original figures for the 18-year tax.
The city will hold two more public hearings at its Aug. 20 and Sept. 6 regular City Council meetings.
Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter. Contact the AnnArbor.com news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org.